Convalescence, chapter 3Mature

The following Friday night, I accompanied Garrison, however reluctantly, to another party of drinking and drugs: this time, held in Steven's apartment. Along with Steven, Garrison, and me, the other four party men were there--Lee, McLean, Gérard, and Corin.

We all sat around the coffee table in the living room, everyone chugging on a beer can while Steven prepared the first joint of the night.

"So, you tried out that eatery on Dongda Road today, right?" Lee asked McLean.

"Yeah, but the food was awful!" McLean said, grimacing, practically in a paroxysm of disgust. "It was so greasy: cars have less oil!"

"Really?" Corin asked.

"That bad, eh?" Steven asked. "So we can safely assume that that was your first and last time to eat there."

"Yeah," McLean said, still grimacing and indulging in wild hyperbole. "Food with the most nasueating taste to it, and a horrible stink. I'm never eating there again: I'd rather perform anilingus on a flatulent elephant!"

Everyone, including Garrison, erupted in laughter.

Steven finished rolling the joint, lit it, and passed it to Garrison, who eagerly began toking. "So, Garrison, tell us all more about your family of religious nutters," Steven said, smirking. "You're quite entertaining when you talk about them."

"Didn't you say one of them's like me?" McLean asked.

"How so?" Lee asked after gulping down some beer. "You're an atheist."

"Exactly," McLean said, reaching to get the joint off Garrison.

"Yeah, my Dad, the lone atheist of my family," Garrison said, feeling the effect of the marijuana and sipping his beer.

"Why would he, a non-believer, marry a practicing Christian?" Gérard asked. "I don't get it."

"Is there such a thing as a practicing Christian, Gérard?" Steven asked. Gérard again tried to ignore this latest verbal jab.

"Dad believed in God when he married my mom, I think," Garrison explained after gulping down some beer. "Then, somewhere along the line, he lost his faith. Mom says he did around when she was pregnant with me."

"Of course!" McLean said sarcastically, as if having an epiphany. "Your being possessed by devils was God's punishment for your dad's apostasy." He chuckled, then toked on the joint.

"Yeah, that's what my mom says; it's pretty ridiculous, but there it is," Garrison said. "You see, he's the best educated of us all, with a master's degree in history." He gulped down some more beer.

"Didn't he try to stop your mom's bullshit superstition with you?" Steven asked. "Stop those...exorcisms?" He tried not to laugh after saying that last word.

"He made a few pathetically feeble attempts to stop her, I guess," Garrison said. "But he didn't do much."

"He's probably pussy-whipped," Lee said, taking the joint from McLean and puffing on it. "No offence, Garrison, but your dad must be a pretty weak man."

"Oh, he is," Garrison said. "I'm almost as...bitter toward him...for having done nothing...as I am toward Mom...for starting it all."

Everyone now being completely stoned, Lee, McLean, and Steven switched the conversation over to Canadian politics.

"Oh, how I hope the Liberal Party can get back in office soon," Lee said. "I'm so sick of Stephen Harper."

"I am, too," said McLean. "But I still remember the corruption of the Liberals not too many years ago. I say it's time for the NDP."

"Good God, no," said Steven. "Let Harper be curbed from going too far to the right, and we'll be OK."

"I say he's doing fine as he is," Corin said. "If only he could lower the GST a little more."

"Yeah," said Gérard. "It's high time we had some more conservative politics in Canada. And more emphasis on family."

"Yeah, you're real good at emphasizing your family, aren't you?" Steven said. "How's your mistress?" Gérard glared at him.

"I say have less and less conservatism in Canada," said McLean. "It reminds me too much of the corruption in America, and their war against the poor: those perfidious fuckers!" Everyone had another good chuckle at McLean's signature mix of erudition and vulgarity.

Garrison, despising all politics and all governments, left or right, resumed chatting with me about his father. He began mumbling softly, as usual, and I began listening carefully.

"Like McLean," Garrison said, "Dad embraces socialism, or statism, anyway. He sees the state...as the only thing capable...of ensuring discipline...and order...in society. He even has...a grudging admiration...for Mussolini's fascism...for its sense of order. Dad has always been...all about discipline. Dad used to be...a high school teacher. He yelled at his students...when they misbehaved...as I can hear...McLean do in his classes...across the hall from mine. Dad yelled at Reynold, Fred, Julia, and me...when we were kids...when he didn't like...what we were doing; he'd say the nastiest things to us. He has always been...bad-tempered."

As the others were continuing their political debate, they would occasionally look over at Garrison and sneer at his incoherent mumbling and apparent talking to himself. Only McLean didn't sneer: he was too busy discussing the virtues of a socialist state taxing the rich, and forcing the Catholic Church to take responsibility for its clergy's sexual abuse of boys. Corin and Gérard frowned in annoyance at how their Church was being bad-mouthed, while Steven cringed in unease at a mere passing reference to the sodomizing of boys.

Paying no attention at all to the others' conversation, Garrison continued his mumbling: "Sometimes, Fred would bully me...and Dad would...occasionally make...a slight attempt...to stop him. Fred would ignore him...then Dad would give up. Once, I came home...from school, crying. Dad comforted me...a bit. Mom didn't care at all. As she saw it, bullying just might...get the devils out of me."

"Ridiculous," I said. Another joint was passed to Garrison, and he puffed on it. "Why must you keep doing drugs with these guys? Why let them influence you? Surely you can see that they don't respect you."

"I want to fit in," he said, then toked some more.

At the end of the night, I picked Garrison up and took him home, always hearing him talk about his family--'the Five'. I lay him on his bed, removed his shoes, and left. He fell asleep and had another intense dream, one I'd hear about later, with his experiences of everything else immediately before and after the dream, all in a seamless, incoherent muddle. The whole story would have the usual blurred borders between dream and wakefulness, intoxication and sobriety, and mental stability and instability.

This is what he experienced.

I, Garrison, am absurdly high after smoking some really powerful weed of Steven's. I see him, Lee, Corin, and Gérard looking at me and laughing at my mumbling. Drinking another beer, I try to ignore them.

"Tell your devil friends we all say 'Hi', Garrison," Lee says, laughing. "Freak."

Later, I leave Steven's apartment, staggering on the sidewalk late at night and sometimes veering halfway into the road. I get home, get on my bed and let my shoes fall off. I fall asleep.

I see Reynold Jr. and Fred walking with me in the snow toward our house in Toronto one afternoon in January. I'm about sixteen in this dream. Fred sees some shit in the snow, and he shoves me towards it, as if to shove my face in it. Reynold laughs. We see Dad by the front door of our house; he's seen their bullying of me, but does nothing about it.

Some other kids see how my brothers are bullying me, kids from my school, and they laugh at me. When my brothers and I get to the front door, Reynold shoves me. My head hits the door. They laugh.

I wake up the next morning, six years old and in my bedroom in my old Toronto home. I still feel drunk and stoned; no detoxification seems to have happened. I go downstairs and see my mother standing by the front door. Judging by the weather outside, it seems to be early September.

"Now, Garrison," she says, straightening my collar, "You finally seem stable enough to be trusted to go to school. It's a miracle from God, really, that the devils' power over you has abated to the extent that it has. For a while there, I really thought we'd have to put you in an asylum and forget about you. Remember to listen carefully to your teachers, since your ability to perceive reality is so terribly blinded by Satan. Now, run along, and remember to resist the devils."

I stagger out of my house and along the sidewalk, sometimes going off the curb and along the sides of the road. Beeping car horns force me back on the sidewalk.

I arrive at school, timidly walking into a classroom. It looks like one of the classrooms I teach in at the English school where I work with Lee, McLean, and the other expatriates. I sit at a desk, avoiding the eyes of the students who are staring at me and laughing. Most of them I remember from my grade school days, though one or two of them, Asian, I'd never seen before as a child.

My teacher walks in the classroom. He is Mr. Matthews, an old grade school teacher of mine. In his forties, he is a thin brunet with glasses and a moustache. He begins teaching.

"Let's do an experiment," he says. "I want you to learn what it would be like to be blind." He wraps a blindfold around my eyes. "Get up and walk around, Garrison."

I nervously walk around the classroom, staggering and stumbling, tripping over desk legs and hearing the laughing of my classmates. I knock over a pencilbox.

"Way to go, Garrison," a voice says--it sounds like Lee's voice.

"He can't help it; he's blind," Mr. Matthews's voice is heard to say.

I remove the blindfold, and look around the classroom. About a third of the students are Asian. Lee, Steven, and my brothers are sitting with them among all the desks in the classroom. Everyone is laughing at me.

I look at the teacher, but instead of seeing Mr. Matthews, I see my father, who is scowling at me.

"Dad," I say, "can't you make them stop laughing?"

"Sit down, Garrison," Dad snaps at me. I sit at my desk, surrounded by laughing voices, and Dad walks over to the blackboard to write something. I look around the room: two thirds of the kids are Asian now. I don't remember ever having so many Asian classmates when I was a kid.

I look back at the teacher. Instead of seeing my dad, though, I see McLean. Since he is in about his mid-forties, and about the same age as my dad when I was six, the shifts from Mr. Matthews to Dad, then to McLean, are so smooth as to seem barely noticeable. Indeed, all three teachers have similar wisps of grey hair among the black, or dark brown; and Dad and McLean also wear glasses sometimes.

An Asian boy stands up and shouts out a rude outburst. McLean yells, "Sit down, and shut up!" He frowns at the boy with clenched teeth and fists.

I look around the classroom to see the boy who got yelled at: now I see all Asian students, and they're all my Chinese students, from my Saturday morning class. They've all been laughing at me!

I get up and walk to the front of the classroom. I look at myself: no longer a six-year-old boy, I'm 39 again, standing by the blackboard with a piece of chalk in my hand. The kids don't stop laughing.

"Baichi [idiot]," one of the Chinese boys says about me.

"Sit down, and shut up!" McLean shouts from his classroom across the hall from mine. I look around, expecting to see him still in my classroom, but he's not here anymore. I am the teacher...I have been the teacher all along.

"Zheige waiguo ren hao ben [This foreigner's really stupid]," another Chinese boy says. He stands up, points at me, and laughs.

"Sit down, and shut up!" I shout.

As he slowly sits down, he mouths the words, "Fuck you, yang guizi[foreign devil]."

I yell again, audible enough for the people in the other rooms to hear me. The Chinese boy has a look on his face, seemingly sincere, like he doesn't understand what he could have said to make me so angry. Nonetheless, I raise my hand as if to slap him. The only reason I don't hit the boy is because Gérard has rushed into the classroom and stopped me.

"Garrison, what are you doing?" Gérard said.

"What?" Garrison said. His Chinese students stared silently at him in fear. A few were even crying.

After work, on Saturday afternoon, Garrison told me everything, burying his face in his hands and sobbing from the fear of almost losing his job. He said, "If I get fired, it's back to Canada, and back to my horrible family."

"Garrison, I think it's high time you left the drinking and the drugs alone," I said gently.

"But I want to fit in," he said in sobs.

The End

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